GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (Part 10), Next Stop: The Moon! December 31, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup
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In September, Doug spent five days on the Space Coast participating the NASA Tweetup for GRAIL, the Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory. We covered this launch extensively (HERE is the link for all GRAIL-tagged posts, or click on the GRAIL title in the tag cloud in the sidebar).
Suffice it to say, as with attending most rocket launches, schedules don’t really mean much. Launch windows are set, but if everything doesn’t line up in those seconds, there’s usually the next day. After two delays, the Delta-II rocket launched on Saturday, September 10. Doug was there to capture some amazing images (see the launch photos HERE).
Today, that mission enters a new phase. At 1:21 PST, the first of the GRAIL twins, GRAIL-A (the mission requires two mirror-twin satellites, A and B) begins a 40-minute lunar orbit insertion burn that will leave the 440 lb satellite in an elliptical orbit over the lunar surface. Think surfboard shaped, with your back foot as the Moon and the satellite tracing the shape of the board. The back of the board, or the lowest point in the orbit is known as perigee, and the front of the board, or highest point in the orbit is known as apogee. (We really have gone all SoCal.)
GRAIL-B will start its 39-minute lunar orbit insertion burn tomorrow at 2:05 PST. Over the next several weeks, each satellite will undergo twenty separate corrections to leave them in the circular orbit (34 miles high, or roughly the distance from Naperville to Chicago) necessary for the science phase, which begins in March. At that time, the spacecraft will map the Moon’s gravitational gradient. During the science phase, the separation between the two craft will vary from 62 to 140 miles.
Considering the investment, both in the number of decades and the dollars (and rubles, euros, yen, yuan, and rupees—Russia alone has sent twenty missions to the Moon), that we have made in understanding our planet’s lone natural satellite, we still have shocking gaps in our knowledge about our nearest neighbor in the heavens. Fundamental questions such as why the light and dark sides of the moon are so completely different (the dark isn’t just dark because sunlight doesn’t reach it, but is actually made of different materials than the light side) remain only partially answered at best. If all goes well for the GRAIL twins, in the very near future we will begin to address a host of questions regarding the Moon. GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber estimates that the science mission of GRAIL will increase our knowledge about the Moon’s light side by a hundred times and the dark side by a thousand times. (If you read our earlier post this week HERE, you know this means we will be increasing our knowledge about the light side by two orders of magnitude and the dark by three).
Doug’s trip to the GRAIL NASATweetup was just one of our four (yes, four!) separate trips to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the Space Coast in 2011. Reflecting on those trips reminds us what a remarkable year this was for us. It also points out the futility of attempting to predict the future. A year ago today, we certainly were kicking around the idea of heading back to the Space Coast to catch one of the final space shuttle launches, but we knew we’d miss the February launch of Discovery because of our work schedules so we weren’t sure what our opportunities might be. We knew we had to go back, and we remain grateful that Chapman University recognized what the subsequent trips might mean for us.
As we conclude 2011, we wish all our readers and followers a happy new year. Look up at the Moon tonight—you won’t be the only one peering at it—and imagine a great year opening before all of us.
International Geophysical Year and the Cold War December 28, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Earthquakes, GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest
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As a group, scientists have a generally deserved reputation for being canny with numbers. Perhaps this perceived facility has also earned them a certain flexibility toward—what a lay person might perceive as casualness with—numbers. On occasion, early estimates of quantities or measurements are said to be correct within an order of magnitude, or a single power of ten. (Powers of ten are ably demonstrated in a film of the same name, which we discussed HERE.)
During the Manhattan Project, initial estimates of the amount of fissile material (in this case uranium) necessary for making an atomic bomb were said to be correct plus or minus an order of magnitude. As the story goes, this pronouncement led General Leslie Groves, military leader of the Manhattan Engineer District, to offer up the analogy of planning for a wedding with a hundred guests, except that perhaps as few as ten or as many as a thousand people might turn up.
Our post today stems from a time when a group of the world’s scientists got together and arranged for an 18-month year: the International Geophysical Year (IGY), which spanned July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958. During the IGY, scientists from 67 nations collaborated on performing experiments and collecting data in eleven major scientific areas: “aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, glaciology, gravity, ionospheric physics, longitude and latitude determination, meteorology, oceanography, rocketry, seismology, and solar activity.”
The IGY was a direct descendant of two previous International Polar Years, the first held in 1882-1883 and the second in 1932-1933. Years later, at a dinner party in honor of Oxford geophysicist Sydney Chapman held on an April 5, 1950 at the home of James Van Allen (later of the Van Allen radiation belts), the assembled handful of scientist-guests, several of whom had participated in the most recent International Polar Year decided that, instead of waiting the customary 50 years between International Polar Years, they would have one to correspond with an upcoming peak in solar activity (which is on an 11-year cycle). The name change from International Polar Year to International Geophysical Year was consciously chosen to reflect science’s growing ability to focus on problems that encompassed the entire earth.
April 5, 1950, (which was Doug’s father’s ninth birthday) must have been quite an eventful day in Dr. Van Allen’s personal life. In addition to hosting a dinner party that would lead to the largest international scientific endeavor to that point in history, he also accepted a Guggenheim fellowship to work at Brookhaven National Laboratory that day, ending nearly a decade of work at Applied Physic Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.
The American IGY effort required a large number of participants coordinated by the U. S. National Committee (USNC), which was formed at the behest of the National Academy of Sciences. In a historical overview of the IGY, the NAS has this to say: “American participation in the IGY was charged to a US National Committee (USNC) appointed in March 1953 by the NAS. Joseph Kaplan, Professor of Physics at UCLA, was appointed Chairman of the USNC. Physicist Alan H. Shapley of the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) was appointed Vice-Chairman, and Hugh Odishaw, also of the NBS, was appointed Executive Secretary (later, Executive Director). The core USNC was made up of sixteen members, but the five Working Groups and thirteen Technical Panels that operated under it eventually drew in nearly 200 additional scientists.”
As ever, we at Lofty Ambitions respect an unanticipated connection, and we have one here with the appearance of the name Alan H. Shapley. This Shapley was the son of astronomer Harlow Shapley about whom we wrote HERE.
Fundamental science was performed during the IGY in areas such as seismology with the confirmation of plate tectonics as evinced by the discovery of a continuous mid-ocean ridge. We’ve touched upon plate tectonics recently (HERE) and in our series related to the tsunami that overwhelmed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (HERE and HERE). Seismic and volcanic activity along parts of the mid-ocean ridge had been well documented prior to the IGY, but what wasn’t previously known—and was revealed as a part of IGY research—was that there was a more-or-less continuous ridge of nearly 50,000 miles in length, reaching into every ocean, encircling much of the earth. It is our planet’s largest extant mountain range.
Probably the most significant scientific contributions of the IGY was the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts (Van Allen of the IGY-initiating dinner party). Undoubtedly, we’ll soon have more to say about the Van Allen belts, how their discovery came about, and what the Cold War has to do with that. And we’ll have more about mapping, too, for the two GRAIL spacecraft are scheduled to reach the Moon this coming weekend. (To catch up on GRAIL, click HERE and HERE.)
To continue to Part 2 of our focus on IGY, click HERE.
On This Date: Radium, Tu-144, and Earthquakes December 26, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Science.
Tags: Airshows, Concorde, Earthquakes, Nobel Prize
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On most Mondays, we post either a piece by a guest blogger (first and third Mondays) or a video interview (second and fourth Mondays). We do have video interviews queued up for the new year (and just wait ’til you see who!), but today we take the opportunity for one of our “on this date” posts.
In 1898, just three years into their marriage, one of our favorite collaborative couples of yesteryear announced at the French Academy of Sciences that they’d isolated radium. Marie and Pierre Curie had isolated the element five days earlier, though it wasn’t named until the following year. They did come up with the term radioactivity, and radium was the second ray-producing element they’d discovered that year. The first was polonium. They continued to work with an enormous amount of pitchblende to isolate a wee bit of radium. And they didn’t patent their processes, thereby allowing the larger scientific community to readily use their work.
Radium was applied as luminescence on watch dials and aircraft switches, which, it turned out, was quite dangerous for those who painted those dials and switches. It was also added to cosmetics before such a glow was considered hazardous. Later, it was used to treat cancer, though, of course, because it is radioactive and because the body processes it like calcium, it likely caused the leukemia and related illnesses from which Marie Curie died in 1934.
Marie Curie was awarded her second Nobel Prize in 1911, this time in chemistry, in part for her role in discovering radium. (Because Pierre died in 1906, he did not share in this award.) Her earlier Nobel Prize, which she shared with Pierre and Henri Becquerel in 1903, was in physics for their work in radiation. She was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize, the first person to be awarded a second, and one of just two people to be awarded Nobel Prizes in different fields. (Linus Pauling is the other.) We’ve written about Marie Curie before—click HERE to read more.
Today is also the anniversary of the Tupolev Tu-144’s entry into supersonic transport service in the Soviet Union. The Soviet government began developing this aircraft in 1963. But the first production airliner crashed at the Paris Air Show in 1973. Accusations of espionage and cover-ups surrounded the investigation. With delays after this debacle, the Tu-144 ended up first flying mail on this date in 1975, with commercial flights beginning almost two years later (and almost as long after Concorde started its commercial routes). The Tu-144, which shares so many design cues with Concorde (dropped nose, cranked wing, and slender fuselage) that its nickname in the Western press was Concordski, was riddled with problems and had only a short commercial run, flying passengers from November 1, 1977 through June 1, 1978. A more recent use of the Tu-144 was as a flying laboratory for NASA.
This past year, one of the top news stories was the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the subsequent damage to the nuclear power plant at Fukushima Daiichi. (Read some of that HERE and HERE.) Today is the seventh anniversary of another devastating earthquake, a 9.2 (numbers vary by source) quake in Indonesia, India Thailand, and the surrounding areas, that also produced tsunamis. It was so strong that some estimate that the entire world moved a full centimeter. As with most recent earthquakes, this one in the Indian Ocean was the result of subduction, or one tectonic plate scraping under an adjacent tectonic plate. In this case, hundreds of miles of a tectonic plate moved about 50 feet.
When this subduction occurred, the seabed rose, pushing water up. In the vast, deep ocean, that sort of wave isn’t much of a problem and is difficult to detect. But as the tsunami reaches shores, the wave can be devastating, and no warning system was in place for the Indian Ocean. The tsunami, of course, reached different shorelines at different times—several minutes or several hours—depending on the distance of the land from the earthquake’s epicenter. In some places, the waves washed a mile inland.
This natural disaster killed almost 230,000 people and is considered one of the ten deadliest natural disasters of all time. In addition to the cost of human life, it devasted coral reefs and wetlands and contaminated freshwater sources. Haiti’s earthquake, the second anniversary of which occurs next month, was even deadlier. Earthquakes change the face of the earth and the faces of the world.
Christmas Eve & Apollo 8 December 24, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Museums & Archives
Today, some of us are celebrating the eve of Christmas. Some of us are in the midst of Hanukkah. Others of us are recovering from Festivus. Lofty Ambitions celebrates today as the anniversary of the first manned orbit of the Moon.
On December 21, 1968, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders were crammed into the Apollo 8 capsule atop a Saturn V rocket, the first to be used to launch human beings. The lunar module wasn’t ready so they carried with them its equivalent weight, a rare opportunity for NASA to add weight for the sake of itself. Apollo 8 blasted off into space that morning. Within 70 hours, Apollo 8 began the first of ten orbits around the Moon. Borman, Lovell, and Anders saw the whole of the Earth firsthand for the first time, then became the first humans to see the dark side of the Moon. During the mission, viewers back home watched the first live broadcast of the Moon’s surface as Apollo 8 circled. The crew returned to Earth on December 27, splashing down in the northern Pacific Ocean to be picked up by the U.S.S. Yorktown. The three astronauts became Time magazine’s Men of the Year.
The crew had trouble sleeping, perhaps because of the close quarters and radio noise. Borman suffered from what he thought was a stomach virus, what NASA doctors then thought was a reaction to a sleeping pill, and what was probably space-sickness, encountered for the first time on Apollo 8 because of the roomier capsule.
While maneuvering to stargaze, Lovell erased some memory in the computer. He corrected the problem and reestablished the proper alignment, something similar to a task he later had to perform during the troubled Apollo 13 mission. After that, the return home consisted of a couple of uneventful days, if being in a space capsule between the Earth and the Moon can be uneventful.
On December 24, during the ninth lunar orbit, the crew read aloud from Genesis. The video of that historic broadcast appears below.
The Apollo 8 capsule now resides at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, which is open every day except tomorrow and which features the exhibit “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Lights” through January 8. William Anders, probably the least well-known of the Apollo 8 astronauts, founded the Heritage Flight Museum in Bellingham, Washington, and flew in air shows until 2008. In fact, we’ve probably seen him fly in a USAF Heritage Flight at an air show. The museum is closed today and New Year’s Eve but otherwise open Thursday through Saturday afternoons. As we remember Apollo 8 this week, Lofty Ambitions wonders whether a museum visit might need to become a new holiday tradition, one that reminds us of the vast universe surrounding us and of the various ways we look at (and have looked at) the world in which we all live.
Beautiful Science December 21, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science.
Tags: Art & Science, Books, botany, Einstein, Math, Museums & Archives, Science Writing
Last week, we wrote about a temporary exhibit at the Huntington Library. Today is the anniversary of Kelly Johnson’s death. We mentioned several of Kelly Johnson’s written pieces in last week’s blog because he was a central figure in Southern California’s aviation history. Read about “Blue Sky Metropolis” HERE.
Past that exhibit is an ongoing display called “Beautiful Science.” Most science museums, while relatively aesthetically inviting as spaces, especially in the sense of being navigable, don’t emphasize the aesthetics of science itself and the artistic representation of science. The Huntington Library uses its texts and artifacts to show the art in science as well as science as art.
Yesterday, after she submitted her grades, Anna traipsed off to a physical bookstore, a reminder that we are writers and have specific writing tasks we want to accomplish over the holiday break. Among her purchases was the annual anthology of The Best American Science Writing. In their introduction, the editors Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Floyd Skloot, Rebecca’s father and author of In the Shadow of Memory, write the following:
“[I]n our experiences, the arts and sciences are more alike than not: both involve following hunches, lingering questions, and passions; perfecting the art of productive daydreaming without getting lost in it; being flexible enough to follow the research wherever it leads you, but focused enough to never lose sight of your larger direction and goals. There’s an alchemy that occurs when art and science come together, when the tools of narrative, voice, imagery, setting, dialog, are brought to bear on biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, and their various combinations.”
That overview echoes the impetus behind and experience of “Beautiful Science.” In fact, an early placard in the exhibition says of observation, “Our desire to understand and organize the living world has been a story of wonder, curiosity, and discovery. Observation has led to text and imagery that have matched our changing perceptions of nature’s order.” In other words, the way we write about and represent science tells us a lot about ourselves as well as about the world around us.
And the Huntington Library’s exhibit runs the gamut of the sciences, from illustrations of flora and fauna to anatomical dissection drawings to displays of dozens of light bulbs. Of course, the exhibit includes texts, notably numerous mathematical texts with varying amounts of formulas and illustration, but also a letter from Albert Einstein. Perhaps the most interesting display is of edition after edition of Origin of the Species, sweeping in linear feet along two walls.
Like any good science writing, “Beautiful Science” asks you to read, to look closely at the universe around you, and to keep thinking about the ideas it offers up.
Guest Blog: Kristen Iversen December 19, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Science.
Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Radioactivity
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Lofty Ambitions has been walking “In the Footsteps” of nuclear scientists (see our most recent posts in that series HERE and HERE). Our guest blogger today adds her personal story of growing up near and working at a nuclear weapons plant. If you’re in Seattle, you can find Kristen Iversen at the Modern Language Convention’s bookfair (booth #209) on January 5 at 4:00p.m. Kristen will also present with Anna on “Fallout & Facts: Creative Nonfiction in the Nuclear Age” at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference on Friday, March 2, at 1:30p.m. at the Hilton Chicago.
Kristen Iversen is Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at The University of Memphis and also Editor-in-Chief of The Pinch, an award-winning literary journal. During the summers she serves on the faculty of the MFA Low-Residency Program at the University of New Orleans, held in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Edinburgh, Scotland. She is also the author of Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth, winner of the Colorado Book Award for Biography and the Barbara Sudler Award for Nonfiction, and Shadow Boxing: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction. You can follow Kristen on Twitter by clicking HERE.
A COLD-WAR HARRIET THE SPY
I grew up in Arvada, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. My house was roughly three miles from the Rocky Flats nuclear weaponry facility, which secretly produced more than seventy thousand plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs—the heart of every nuclear bomb manufactured in the United States since 1953. Unbeknownst to my family or anyone else in our neighborhood, Rocky Flats heavily contaminated the environment with toxic and radioactive materials. Arvada is near Boulder, Colorado, well known as one of the most beautiful areas of the country. Our house was next to Standley Lake, where many of the neighborhood families swam and waterskied against a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. My siblings and I played in our backyard, swam in Standley Lake, and rode our horses in the fields around Rocky Flats. No one knew the land and water were contaminated, and none of us understood what was happening just down the road. The Rocky Flats plant was owned by the Department of Energy and operated by Dow Chemical. We thought they made household cleaning products. There were rumors about nuclear bombs, but no one asked questions. Cold War Secrecy was the rule.
Later, when I grew up, like many of the kids in my neighborhood I went to work at Rocky Flats. I was a single parent with two kids putting myself through college, and with the high pay, good benefits, and flexible hours, Rocky Flats was the best job in town. Like everyone else—even many employees at the plant— I didn’t really know what was produced at Rocky Flats. I needed the job. But I was keen to learn what actually happened there. I thought of myself as a kind of Cold War Harriett the Spy. Everyone else in the country thought the Cold War was over. But here in Arvada, it was happening in my own backyard.
I avoided the higher-paying jobs in the “hot” areas and went to work in administration. The weekly reports that I typed as part of my job described problems with radioactive waste storage, leaking drums and containers, spray “irrigation” of radioactive waste, fires, and other environment problems or “incidents.” I learned odd acronyms like MUF, which stood for “Material Unaccounted For,” describing how many pounds of plutonium had been lost in the system and in the environment. One millionth of a gram of plutonium can cause cancer. Over the years, tons of plutonium were “lost” at Rocky Flats. In 1994 the DOE publicly admitted to 1.4 tons of MUF; other estimates, including those by the DOE, are substantially higher.
I began to learn the dramatic history and litany of problems at the plant, including details of the 1989 FBI raid, the only time in the history of our country that two government agencies—the FBI and the EPA—raided another government agency. I felt stunned by all I had not known about Rocky Flats over the years. The day I learned that I was working next to 14. 2 metric tons of plutonium—much of it unsafely stored—was the day I knew I had to quit. But I knew that someday I would write a book about Rocky Flats.
Twelve years of research and writing went into the book, and I met many fascinating people along the way. The story of attorney Peter Nordberg is especially poignant for me. Peter was one of the prosecuting attorneys for Cook v. Rockwell Int’l Corp, the class-action lawsuit by local residents against Rocky Flats. He devoted more than twenty years of his life to pursuing justice in this case, and he spent many hours in interviews with me. Sadly, he died unexpectedly of a heart condition not long after our last interview, and only days before his winning verdict was overturned on appeal. The Supreme Court is just now considering whether or not to address Cook v. Rockwell.
Several of the people I interviewed for this book have died within the last year or two. And yet, with a half-life of 24,000 years, plutonium on and near the Rocky Flats site will persist long after we—and our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, and the many generations beyond—are gone.
All Wright, First Flight! December 17, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: Wright Brothers
On this date in 1903, the Wright brothers took to the air and ushered in the age of aviation. Their Wright flyer stayed aloft just one second short of a minute. That first manned, powered, controlled flight traversed 852 feet.
We’ve written about the Wright brothers before at Lofty Ambitions. Last February, we visited the College Park Aviation Museum and wrote about Wilbur’s stint in College Park HERE. Just over a year ago, we had another post for the impending Wright Brothers Day HERE. And we’re not the only ones whose holiday season includes celebrating Wright Brothers Day on December 17. This morning, we found a piece in The Daily Mirror that we especially enjoyed; check that out HERE.
Wilbur and Orville Wright grew up in Ohio and traced their interest in flying machines to a childhood toy. Wilbur decided not to attend Yale University after he got his teeth knocked out and began caring for his ill mother, and Orville dropped out of high school. In 1882, the two brothers opened a bicycle repair shop and started manufacturing their own brand of bikes four years later. By the turn of the century, they were building gliders and flew at Kitty Hawk, where sand dunes made landings softer and safer. Kitty Hawk is, of course, where they first flew their Wright Flyer as well.
By 1906, the Wright brothers were trying to negotiate contracts to sell their flying contraptions. Two years later, they began flying demonstrations to prove their machines to prospective buyers. That fall, the first woman to fly hopped aboard one of those demonstration flights. Sadly, another demonstration led to the first airplane crash fatality: Thomas Selfridge, age 26. Orville spent seven weeks in the hospital as a result of his injuries in the crash, and his sister Katharine helped nurse him back to health.
Wilbur died of typhoid fever at age 45, after which Orville led their company and Katharine became an officer until 1915, when he sold it. He served on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became what we know as NASA. Orville took his last flight in 1944, in a Lockheed Constellation piloted by Howard Hughes (read about Hughes HERE). After years of estrangement after his sister married, Orville was at Katharine’s bedside when she died in 1929. Orville himself died in January of 1948 of a heart attack.
Celebrate Wright Brothers Day today! Take a look at the Smithsonian’s exhibit at the National Air & Space Museum in person or online HERE. Better yet, ride a bike, watch takeoffs and landings at your local airport, or order a flight of beer or wine and raise a glass to this pair of aviation innovators!
Blue Sky Metropolis December 14, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Airshows, Museums & Archives, Physics, Space Shuttle, WWII
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Today’s post is going up a little later than usual because we spent part of today listening to Yakir Aharonov, our colleague at Chapman University, explain quantum mechanics and Alice in Wonderland. We’ll get back to Aharonov and the Aharonov-Bohm effect at some point at Lofty Ambitions.
Time is running out, though, on the Blue Sky Metropolis exhibition at the Huntington Library, so we wanted to share our recent viewing of that while there’s time for area residents and visitors to catch it before it closes on January 9, 2012. Blue Sky Metropolis: The Aerospace Century in California was one of our happy accidents. Our colleague Jana Remy invited us to present in the Past Tense series at the Huntington Library on November 18, and we hung out afterward to see some of what there was to see there, including this exhibit, which is tied to a forthcoming edited essay collection by the same title.
The first international air meet was held in Dominguez Hills, California, in 1910, thus beginning California’s aerospace history. Like air shows today, it was incredibly popular, attracting 226,000 watchers during its ten-day run. During the 1920s, commercial aviation took off, and Southern California became a hub for that industry with 28 aircraft manufacturing companies in 1928.
Word War II made aviation the largest industry in the world, and Southern California remained a go-go and a region for building aircraft. As the placard script noted, “Southern California aircraft factories employed 2 million people; some individual plants had 100,000 workers each, with shifts working around the clock.”
Of course, by 1957, with the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik I, the industry expanded its notions and helped put an American satellite into orbit in 1958. Though it was launched from Florida, Explorer I was built at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as part of the International Geophysical Year (see our photo of a geodetic in a previous post HERE). Of course, the recently retired space shuttle orbiters were born and took their first, albeit tentative, steps in Southern California (see the shuttle’s first flight video below).
The boom-and-bust cycle of space exploration and Cold War defense programs kept the California aerospace industry a dynamic, ever-changing part of the regional economy. Now, California’s aerospace industry is expanding into commercial space exploration.
Blue Sky Metropolis covers this aerospace history with a roomful of selected artifacts, including many photos, letters, and memos. In fact, though it’s no surprise at a library, this exhibit is one of the more text-heavy displays we’ve seen in our travels to archives and museums. That makes sense, of course, because these letters and memos articulated the decision-making throughout the growth of the industry.
Kelly Johnson, who grew up in Ishpeming, Michigan, where Anna’s grandfather was raised, is featured prominently. A course notebook from his Aeronautics course at the University of Michigan in 1931 documents an assignment to analyze a “performance problem” by calculating characteristics from an aircraft blueprint. He writes, “In general, the performance of this plane is good. The Clark Y wing is a speed wing, and the speed for this plane at sea level is probably from 120-125 m/p/h. All computations in this report are given at 5000 foot altitude and with empty tanks.” While still at the University of Michigan, Johnson performed wind tunnel tests on Lockheed’s Model 10 Electra. (See our Lofty post about the Electra Junior HERE.) Those early assignments led Kelly Johnson to a four-decade career in the aerospace industry, in which he contributed to the design of aircraft like the P-38 Lightning, the family of Constellations, the F-104 Starfighter, the C-130 Hercules, and the U-2 spy plane.
Also featured in the exhibit is Willis Hawkins, another engineer educated at the University of Michigan whose career at Lockheed spanned decades. Some of his more philosophical writings are included. He writes, “One group of men can be blamed however, if there is cause for blame, and that group goes by the name of engineers. An engineer is fundamentally a mechanic whose dexterity with the tools of physics has made it possible for him to create inanimate machines which propelled by some form of thinking pilot can produce material miracles of transportation or creation.”
A memo from D.A. Shields about “a satellite and space exploration program” asserts, “The feasibility of the proposed program is probably the most exciting part of the entire idea.” That’s dated 29 September 1959. Less than three years later, President John F. Kennedy thought going to the Moon was indeed feasible.
The tidbits mount up and are worth seeing: a wall-sized blueprint of the Spruce Goose HK-1 from 1944 (read Spruce Goose curator’s guest post HERE and our original HK-1 post HERE), a photo of Kelly Johnson and Amelia Earhart working together in ta Lockheed hangar during the 1930s, a letter from Willis Hawkins in 1992 replying to a middle-school student who asks how something can fly, and a one-way ticket for Transcontinental Air Transport dated October 19, 1929 (a year later, TAT would be bankrupt).
Blue Sky Metropolis is worth a flyby! And of course, there’s lots more at the Huntington Library, including the Beautiful Science exhibit in the same building.
Interview: Dee O’Hara December 12, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
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We met Dee O’Hara, the first nurse to NASA’s first astronauts, last year when we visited Kennedy Space Center for Discovery‘s not-launch. At first, O’Hara was a little hesitant to be on camera, but she opened up so that we could capture some of our conversation in the video below.
Dee O’Hara was born in Idaho in 1935 and was educated and trained as a nurse in Oregon. She became an Air Force nurse in 1959, and she talks here about how she made her way to NASA and the Mercury program. O’Hara retired from NASA in 1997 but continued to volunteer at the Ames Human Research Center in California. A book about her, called Dee O’Hara: The Astronauts’ Nurse, was published in 1965 but is now out of print.
What we appreciated most about talking with Dee O’Hara was her enthusiasm for pursuing her goals and appreciating the timing of her life’s successes. It was great to see her still hanging out with the astronauts, and supposedly Al Worden has written a poem about her.
On This Date: Lunar Eclipse & More! December 10, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Science.
Tags: Airshows, Biology, Chemistry, Nobel Prize, Physics, Railroads, Wright Brothers
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Last night, we set our alarm for 5:30a.m. so that we could take a look at the total lunar eclipse. A total eclipse had occurred earlier this year, in June, but it wasn’t visible from North America.
The moon hung in our western sky, its face three-quarters in shadow. We watched the slow process, which takes several hours, for about ten minutes. Then set the alarm for 6:15a.m. to see how much it had changed. By then, the sun was rising over our backs, and the moon had sunk behind trees that line the street a couple of blocks away. Still, we could make out the reddish glow of the lunar orb.
If you remember your grade-school science lessons, you’ll recall that a lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth gets in between the Sun and the Moon and blocks the Sun’s rays from striking the Moon. Lunar eclipses are beautiful in part because the alignment necessary happens to occur when the Moon is full. In fact, even before the eclipse, last night’s Moon was striking.
We didn’t brush up on our how-to-photograph-the-Moon instructions, but Universe Today has some amazing photos and a video HERE. MSNBC also has a great collection of photos HERE. A Seattle blogger also has amazing shots from around the globe HERE.
If you missed this weekend’s eclipse, mark your calendar for April 15, 2014.
If you’re looking for other events to commemorate today, it’s the anniversary of the awarding of the first Nobel Prizes in 1901. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen received the Nobel Prize in Physics that year.
Jacobus van ‘t Hoff was awarded the chemistry prize for his work on dilute solutions and how they behaved, mathematically speaking, like gasses. In his address, he espoused the role of imagination in science.
The prize in physiology or medicine that year went to Emil von Behring, who came up with the diphtheria vaccine and also a serum to prevent tetanus. If you haven’t had a tetanus booster in more than ten years, you could commemorate this anniversary with the CDC-recommended tetanus shot to prevent the potentially deadly bacterial infection of the nervous system. Of course, consult your doctor because contraindications exist too.
There’s some controversy as to whether von Behring should have shared the financial rewards for the diphtheria serum and the Nobel Prize with Paul Ehrlich, who shared the prize in 1908 for work in immunity. A year later, Ehrlich developed a cure for syphilis, though even now, no vaccine is available.
Today is also the anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental flight across the United States and the first cross-country airmail, which began on September 17, 1911. Clearly, not a nonstop! In fact, Calbraith Perry Rodgers, great-grandson of Matthew Perry, stopped 70 times (not all planned), finally landing in Long Beach, California, on December 10. The last twenty miles from Pasadena had included two stops and a broken ankle. To celebrate and fully complete his transit, the pilot taxied his plane (the Vin Fizz, named to advertise a grape soda) into the Pacific Ocean. Only a few months later, on April 3, 1912, in a sad bit of irony, Rodgers, who had received about 90 minutes of flight instruction before his first solo in June 1911, perished when his exhibition flight over Long Beach ended in the ocean near where he had completed his transcontinental trek.
We end today’s post with an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson, who was born on this date in 1830. Though the poem isn’t about a lunar eclipse (the full poem is available at The Academy of American Poets), it does resonate with our viewing early this morning:
There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance